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THE PIPELINE: Connecting the Dots: An Educator/Librarian’s Charge

By Stephen Abram - Posted Dec 1, 2017
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This column has always been about connecting the dots—seeing patterns and judging likelihood and direction. Eventually, a picture of the future emerges—one that we can adapt to or create, not one that rolls over us like a steamroller. Sometimes, in retrospect we see those patterns when we wonder in surprise, “What just happened?” Sometimes we know what’s about to happen and are prepared through our personal learning strategies.

I love this quote from Peter Fisk, author of Gamechangers: Creating Innovative Strategies for Business and Brands; New Approaches to Strategy, Innovation and Marketing (Wiley, 2015):

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

It means, of course, that all of us old folks can feel comfortable that we have more “past” to recall in order to see patterns! And, younger folks have different perspectives on the meaning of the past and what it’s leading to. That’s why diverse teams and perspectives are vital. The trick is to distinguish between the emergent patterns and the old patterns struggling to survive.

So many dots to connect (adapted this from Fisk’s book; “Inspirational” source:

  • Connecting ideas with different ideas to create new and unusual concepts
  • Connecting diverse people to combine talents, experiences, and perspectives
  • Connecting schools with vendors to gain insight and engagement
  • Connecting partners with schools to gain capability and reach
  • Connecting faculty and learner needs and wants to solve bigger problems
  • Connecting ideas from different places, across geographies and sectors
  • Connecting products and services into richer learner experiences
  • Connecting education strategies in new ways to operate differently and better
  • Connecting school libraries with new business models to have greater impact
  • Connecting media, channels, and market networks to amplify the impact
  • Connecting learners with information and experiences to build richer communities

Recommended Reading on Dot Connecting—Free, No Less!

Check out Connecting the Dots: Key Strategies That Transform Learning for Environmental Education, Citizenship and Sustainability by Stan Kozak and Susan Elliott (Learning for a Sustainable Future, 2014). While this book is written for environmental and sustainable learning, the lessons in it are applicable in all parts of the learning ecosystem. Here’s a salient quote from the book:

Connecting the Dots answers the question: what are the learning strategies for environmental education that we can employ to prepare our young people to take their place as informed, engaged citizens? Throughout the process, a secondary line of inquiry emerged: how are these strategies aligned with 21st century learning skills including collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking?

You can download the electronic version here:

In the book, the authors explore seven strategies (

1. Learning Locally “Learning Locally or using the community as a classroom is a strategy available at every school. The opportunities vary according to the school’s location and the time of year. Nevertheless there are rich opportunities waiting outside every school door.”

2. Integrated Learning “Integrated or interdisciplinary learning is an approach that brings together content and methods from more than one subject discipline, supporting connections that deepen understanding. Subject-based timetables and subject specialization in higher grades can make its application more difficult, but not impossible.”

3. Acting on Learning “When students act on their learning, school becomes relevant and the seeds of active citizenship are planted.”

4. Real-World Connections “Students want to be involved in the real world.”

5. Considering Alternative Perspectives “Bringing alternative perspectives to the attention of students is an invitation for critical thinking.”

6. Inquiry “Inquiry-based learning is most consistent with the development of skills for lifelong learning. It prepares students to know what to do when the options before them are unclear.”

7. Sharing Responsibility for Learning “Preparation for active and engaged citizenship requires educators to shift responsibility for learning to students. This requires that teachers prepare learners to be able to assume responsibility by addressing individual and group learning capacities. It involves deep listening to understand and respect student motivations and needs and to support their learning journey in becoming who they wish to be.”

The Educator/Librarian Connection

This framework is a brilliant filter with which to view the opportunities in technology and to look for patterns aligned with our real goals. In each of these experientially driven strategies for learner development, we can easily see the role of the library and librarian. With competent and professional facilitation, the learner is focused on the task at hand (the experience, the engagement, the goal) and actually learns and retains the skills.

1. What are makerspaces in libraries except for places to act on your learning—fail, try again, and succeed?

2. What is the web but a connection to the real world beyond the classroom?

3. Where can I have the experiences needed to judge the quality, truthfulness, fit-for-purpose, authority, etc., of information?

4. Where can I experience diverse perspectives, opposing viewpoints, and alternative views?

5. Where can I find people to trust and judge when not to trust others? How can I build and manage social and learning networks?

6. How do I credit others’ thoughts and works?

7. Where do I find a diversity of formats beyond text—streaming video, audio, pictures, etc.?

Wrapping this all up with a bow is the sweet spot for us librarians! Indeed, if we only focused on digital literacy, information literacy, and digital citizenship learning strategies, we’d still be worth our weight in platinum! The scary pattern of potentially diminishing respect for our skills is a battle worth fighting.

Writes Peter Fisk in Gamechangers:

The real skill is to see the bigger picture, the bigger space in which you can make the new connections—and then to make new connections—interesting, unusual, distinctive, better. Even if at first you question how will it work, how will it make money, don’t be disheartened. By adding more connections you will soon find ways to implement and sell your uniqueness, often in ways you never imagined.

So, the real pattern is that we can look to the past and the rich and successful history of librarianship in adapting to change, indeed from the days of rock/wax tablets and scrolls, to today’s digital and physical world. Our real contribution—connecting people with resources and endowing them with skills—is our magic professional sauce.


So, folks, this is my final column for the standalone Internet@Schools. It has been a great run for many years, and Dave Hoffman and the crew at Information Today, Inc. are truly awesome. I hope to continue to be able to communicate with you over the coming years at the various Information Today conferences including Internet@Schools, Computers in Libraries, and Internet Librarian. They’re among my favorite experiences. You can still keep up with my ideas and contributions by following my blog, Stephen’s Lighthouse ( or on Twitter (@sabram).

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